A hero – or in the case, a team of heroes – is only as good as the opposition is bad. And in “The Avengers,” Tom Hiddleston is a very, very bad guy.
Once again assuming the guise of the Asgardian god of mischief and Thor’s scheming half-brother Loki, Hiddleston not only takes on Marvel’s premiere troop of superheroes, he somehow holds his own on screen against the combined star wattage of Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson. In an exclusive chat with PopcornBiz, Hiddleston reveals the secret origin of how he became the villain that unites the world’s most dysfunctional team of champions.
You knew you were going to be playing Loki in 'Thor,' but you were also signing onto “The Avengers.” Was that a leap of faith? Because at the time you didn't know it was Joss Whedon who was doing it and there were just other unknowns.
It's funny: when I got the job in 'Thor,' and there was a long and lengthy audition process, and the first time that I went to see Kevin Feige after getting the role I was trying to show him a bunch of YouTube videos of a very young, brilliant, contemporary choreographer in London as a basis for Loki's fighting style. Kevin was like, 'Let's look at those in a minute. I want to talk to about this thing called "The Avengers."' I was like, 'Okay, what's that?' He said, 'Well, I'm going to make "Captain America" after this, and then if they both work there's this thing called "The Avengers." Everyone comes together – It's Iron Man, Thor, Cap and Hawkeye…' And he goes, 'And I think that maybe Loki should be the villain in that, because he was the villain in the first edition of "The Avengers" comic.' I said, 'When are you going to make that?' He said, 'Probably in three years time.' I thought, 'Well, if I'm bad in "Thor" – if I'm rubbish and everyone thinks that I'm rubbish – there's no way that they're going to put me in "Avengers."' So I thought, 'One step at a time.' Then I didn't think about 'Avengers' for another two years and then we were at the end of shooting 'Thor' and Joss was coming into the studio a lot to start writing it, Ken Branagh showed him a rough cut because he wanted to see where Chris Hemsworth was, wanted to see what to do with that character and also, I think, Loki. And Joss loved it. We went out for a cup of tea and he said, 'There's been some talk about maybe multiple villains in "Avengers," but I think I want you to do it.' It was just a joyous moment, because you build something. You build a character from the ground up and with all of his spiritually complex foundations – he's this second son, an Asgardian prince, someone who's life is a whole lie He was adopted. He was abandoned. He's essentially a lost child with a predisposition for mischief and chaos. Having built this character, you can then take him further and evolve him down the line. So it was just a thrill. It really was a thrill.
You were initially tested to play Thor. Why are you glad you got the Loki role at this point?
I don't have to eat as many chickens as Chris Hemsworth! Poor Chris – I mean, he is extraordinary because he gives an amazing performance as Thor, but secondary to that, he looks incredible and that's so much work. He's not built that way. He's a surfer. He's naturally kind of a lean Australian guy, and he has to do so much work on his body, he has to lift so many weights so frequently and eat so much. I'm just not built like that. I don't know if I could've maintained that regime. I'm kind of in awe of how he does it because it doesn't seem to cost him anything. It doesn't seem to be a chore. It's an amazing thing that he commits to, because he knows that without his kind of enormous stature there is no Thor really. You have to do that if you're going to take that role on. Also, I think my natural inclination as an actor is towards complexity. I like digging around in complicated people because I'm fascinated by the inconstancy of human nature. I think that people constantly contradict themselves in their motivations, so we are capable of the twin extremes of virtue and vice. We can save the world and we can destroy it. Loki is someone who walks the tightrope between those two things. He's a really rich, complicated character that's got kind of Shakespearean depth and proportion. As an actor that's just really juicy and there's a lot to eat on the bone.
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People are really interested in the bond that the all-star Avengers cast had off screen. You're a part of that cast, but you’re the bad guy – did you stay aloof because of your character or were you right in the thick of it?
I was right in the thick of it. The code name for this film was ‘Group Hug.’ I was not excluded from the hugging. It was really fun. I would've been so lonely if I'd been on my own. I mean, I shot this movie for five months and it would've been a very lonely enterprise had it been that.
How nice was it to have Chris Hemsworth with you on the journey, coming over from 'Thor' and going in to ‘Avengers?’ And then being able to play against everyone else in the cast?
It was fantastic. It was just so great. We felt like such a team. We all did. Making the movie felt like a real team game. Ultimately acting is like tennis: you can't do on your own. It's what happens when you're playing a rally, that's when it's exciting. If I can extend that metaphor, there are some really good tennis players on this film. They make you better. It's lovely. With Chris, we knew that we had a really, really good chemistry. We completely trust each other, and so when you get on set you just can instinctively get into it really fast. We connected on such a quick level. Joss was really sweet. On the first scene we shot, it was the scene between the two of us on the mountaintop. At the end of that day he said, 'Ken told me this and it really is true. You make each other better.' I thought that was just a lovely thing to say about two actors who get on. But then doing the scenes that I have with Scarlett [Johansson] and Robert [Downey Jr.], that was great. I had so much fun with them because that's a new chemistry and a different chemistry because you can never play the same rally. It's a different thing every time, so it's really exciting.
You've had a singular experience with the directors you've gotten to work with – both of-the-moment and dream icons. What's that been like as an actor, so early in your film career?
It's been amazing. I really feel so privileged to have worked with them and I've learned so much. The thing that I've learned the most is what distinguishes, or what unites the people, the directors that I've worked with – Kenneth Branagh and Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg and Joss Whedon and Terrence Davis – is their continuing passion and diligence and humility, a very open confession that they don't have all the answers. That's your strongest suit as a leader, just saying, 'I'm leading this team, but I can't do it on my own. I need all of you to help me.' That is incredibly inspiring, that the reason that they're still making films is because they haven't done it yet. They feel that there's still juice to squeeze out of the lemon, that there's still stuff to find out, there's still stories to tell and aspects of human nature that they want to explore. It just makes me realize that it's a long life, and if you're lucky in this business you get to do a lot of different things as an artist. It's kind of cool.